On the Rocks at Pemaquid Point

Yesterday dawned cool, sunshiny and slightly breezy–the perfect day for a 2+ hour drive and an outdoor exploration. And so I had the extreme pleasure of joining a small group of naturalists for a geology lesson offered by one of our colleagues, Denise Bluhm, at Pemaquid Point in mid-coast Maine.

p1a-Pemaquid Point Lighthouse

The lighthouse is one of 57 still active along the Maine coast and it’s this very one that is featured on the state quarter. It was manned from 1927-1934, but has been on automatic ever since.

p2-Pemaquid Point on map

But that wasn’t our focal point. Instead, we’d gathered to learn about the rocky coast below. After reviewing the definition of mineral (naturally occurring solid, distinctive physical properties, e.g. cleavage, hardness, crystal form and color, and characteristic chemical formation) and rock (one or more minerals together, aka mineral soup), Denise pulled out a geologic map of Maine and pointed to our location.

p3-map :Brunswick formation direction

She then oriented us northeastward and helped us understand that we were standing on what is known as the Bucksport formation, a deposit of sandstone and mudstone metamorphosed into a flaky shist. And then she took us through geological history, providing a refresher on plate tectonics and the story of Maine’s creation–beginning 550 million years ago when our state was just a twinkle in the eyes of creation.

p4--do you see the fold?

Stepping below the lighthouse, Denise asked if we saw the fold. I thought I knew what she pointed to, but . . .

p5-layers in beds

it took more of her insight to fully form the picture for me. The metamorphic rock, it turns out, is on its side due to intense pressure in its long-term history and thus we could examine its layers, much like the rings on a tree. That doesn’t mean I could age it, but just understand that over time various pressures and results of heating and cooling events caused the variation in color and mineral size of the bands. Lighter gray=sand and silt (composed of sea sediments), Medium gray=quartz, feldspar and biotite mica (black). Darker gray=more biotite. Greenish-gray=limy sand and silt. Rust=iron. All of it equals a gneiss (nice) or layered formation with foliation.

p6-zigzag

I think one of my favorite learnings came from the sills and dikes that show their faces throughout the rock. Sills are parallel or perpendicular intrusions while dikes run off parallel. And this particular dike featured a zigzag created by a continental collision. The Z-fold, as she referred to it, was caused by a right lateral shear. Who knew?

p9-first fold understanding

My understanding of the first fold Denise had pointed to began to develop more fully when she pulled out a geological compass and measured the angle of the rock to the left and then we could see the same angle on the far right and suddenly in my mind’s eye was the arc that has since eroded. With that came the new knowledge that more moons ago than my brain can comprehend, mountains reached six miles above and natural forces had eroded their 12,000-foot structures.

p10-dike to lighthouse

We crossed the rock from feature to feature, occasionally looking back at the lighthouse to note characteristics, such as the igneous dike (lighter color) that cuts across the metamorphic rock and leads to the buildings. Being made of granite, it offers a solid foundation for the tower.

p11-Denise on fold

And then our great leader led us to her favorite feature–the greatest fold in Maine.

p11a-the fold

Though the rocks were originally horizontal in nature, intense pressure and heat at some point in their lifetime forced such folds.

p12-everyone on fold

It was worth a photo call for Denise, Sharon, Judy, Karen and Penny–all sharing a brain with me for the day.

p13-the big dike

From there, we had a great view of the large granite-topped sill that is harder and thus more resistant to erosion.

p14-sunburst lichen

As we made our way back across to it, we paused to look at quartz, feldspar and biotite mica–but lichens such as the sunburst also caught our attention.

p15-lichen disks

Don’t tell Denise. But do check out those fruiting bodies–the apothecia.

p16-fold looking toward lighthouse

Suddenly, our eyes and brains recognized the fold formation throughout.

p19-Karen at dike

At the huge sill, Karen posed to give a sense of height. (Ignore photo light)

p22-bucksport layers

And then we looked at its structure–metamorphic below and granite pegmatite with huge crystals above.

p23-swirls

We noted swirls and imagined silly putty (invented in a barn in my hometown of North Branford, Connecticut).

p24-under the sill

And stood in awe of life.

p25-large crystals

I mentioned the large crystals–evidenced here. Far larger than the 2.5 centimeters that defines a pegmatite.

p26-Denise again

Denise showed us some popcorn migmatite and how the schist and pegmatite formed together.

p29-igneous rock formation 2

One of our next stops was atop a jetty–so different in structure. This is an example of an igneous rock intrusion created deep underground.

p30-trough of a syncline

To its side we could see a trough–known geologically as a syncline.

p33--garnets

Through her eyes, we spotted red specks of garnet.

p33--buodoin--sausage 1

And began to understand the pinching and swelling from compression and shearing to the Northeast that formed sausage-shaped boudins.

p31a--pressure formation

Closer to the lighthouse, we noted the isoclinal folds Denise referred to as S-folds (compared to the Z-folds we’d seen earlier).

p35--view

Before the day began, this was a great example of the rocky coast of Maine.

p36--view from lighthouse

But when we climbed the lighthouse tower after our lesson, we looked below with brand new eyes and understandings (and still so much more to learn and wrap our brains around).

Thankful were we for our day spent in wonder on the rocks at Pemaquid Point with Denise.

 

Walking with Ursula

No matter when or where I walk, Ursula Duve is always along. She sees what I see, smells what I smell, feels what I feel, tastes what I taste and knows way more than I’ll ever know.

h-Ursula 2

And so it was today that a bunch of us followed this delightful little woman as she led us down the trail at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve.

h-sign

We gathered in the parking lot, where the black flies tried to swallow us whole. But, we got the better of them and practiced mind over matter. Of course, bug spray and our flailing arms helped–or at least made us feel as if it was worth the effort.

h-wild oats 1

After an introductory greeting from LEA’s teacher/naturalist Mary Jewett, we stopped frequently as Ursula shared stories of plants and life. You see, she was born in Hamburg, Germany, and grew up during WWII so she has quite a few memories flowing through her system, but as she reminded us, with the bad comes the good. And the good comes from moments she associates with wildflowers, like this bellwort.

h-painted trillium

Having lived in the United States for 50+ years now, with the last nineteen in Maine, Ursula considers herself a Mainer despite her German accent because she loves it here. And she knows when and where each flower will bloom, such as the painted trillium.

h-chokeberry buds

Even those not yet in bloom drew her attention–this being a chokeberry along the first boardwalk.

h-pitcher 3

One of the finds Ursula enjoys sharing with others is the pitcher plant, a perennial herb with pitcher-shaped leaves. We noted that this particular one sported new flower buds.

h-pitcher flower

And on another, the otherworldly shape of last year’s now woody flower capsule–its job completed.

h-pitcher plant 1

Ursula is as awed as I am by the power of the pitcher plants. Color, scent (that I’ve never smelled) and nectar in glands near the top of the pitcher leaf attract insects. Once inside, those downward-pointing hairs make it difficult to leave. So what happens next? The insect eventually drowns in the rainwater, decomposes and is digested by the plant’s liquid, which turns phosphorus and nitrogen released by the insect into supplemental nutrients for the surrounding peat. Interestingly, no “joules” or units of energy are passed on through this process to the plant itself. The plant gathers its energy through the process of photosynthesis instead.

h-rhodora 1

As we continued, we were wowed once again–this time by the sight of the showy rhodora. Rhodora flowers fully before its leaves emerge and so today they were but small nubs located alternately along the shrub’s branches.

h-rhodora 3

But those flowers–oh my! The rose-purple bloom has what’s considered two lips–with the upper consisting of three lobes and the lower of two. And each produces ten purple-tipped stamen surrounding the pistil, where the pollen will germinate into a many-seeded capsule.

h-leatherleaf

Like the rhodora, another member of the heath family in bloom was the leatherleaf–with bell-shaped flowers formed in leaf axils and dangling below the stem as if it was laundry hung out to dry. One way to differentiate this plant from the highbush blueberries that can be found throughout the preserve, are the alternate, upward-pointing leaves, which decrease in size as your eye moves toward the tip of the stem.

h-honeysuckle 1

Just before we stepped out onto the Quaking Bog boardwalk, Mary pointed out a native honeysuckle. In my memory bank, I couldn’t remember ever seeing it before, and if I had, well . . . I was glad to make its acquaintance again.

h-green frog 2

And then we stepped onto the boardwalk. Folks up front paused to admire a green snake, while those of us in the back noticed a green frog. It stayed as calm as possible in hopes that we wouldn’t see it. Nice try.

H-Holt Pond

Like all ponds and lakes right now, the water level remains high and so walking the boardwalk meant wet hiking boots.

h-quaking bog 2

But that didn’t stop some of us. Fortunately, mine are waterproof.

h-green frog

Just before we stepped from the boardwalk back onto land, I saw that the frog was still there.

h-hobblebush flowers 1

On the trail again, another showy flower called for our attention–hobblebush.

h-hobblebush 1

While some looked fresh, others were beginning to pass and their fruits will soon form. We noted the sterile outer blooms that surround the inner array of small fertile flowers. And a beetle paying a visit.

h-Mayfly1

Speaking of insects, a slight movement on the ground pulled us earthward.

h-mayfly 2

We’d found a Mayfly–perhaps just emerged and its wings drying.

h-Indian Cucumber root 1

In the last wooded section we would cover for the day, we noticed that the two-tiered Indian Cucumber Roots have a few buds. I can’t wait for them to flower soon.

h-goldthread 2

Among the flowers that I’ll always associate with Ursula because she’s the first to have introduced me to them, is the goldthread, so named for its golden-colored root. We usually identify it by its cilantro-shaped leaves, but right now the dainty flowers are not to be missed. What looks like petals are actually sepals and there can be five to seven of them. And stamen–many. Goldthread can feature 5-25 stamen.

h-goldthread 3

Even the number of yellow-and-green pistils can vary from three to seven. Ah nature–forever making us think.

h-dwarf ginseng 1

The other plant I associate with Ursula is dwarf ginseng. Its explosive umbel consists of many flowers. And in this one, a dining crab spider.

h-spring tail wave

Finally, we found our way to Grist Mill Road and headed back toward the parking lot. But even on the road we found something to wonder about when one member of our group pointed to the curvy black design. In the past, I’ve always dismissed it as some sort of mineral associated with the dirt.

h-spring tails on sand1

Today, I learned it was none other than those good old spring tails or snow fleas we associate with late winter, but are really present all year. Something new to notice going forward.

h-Ursula1

At the end of our walk we all gave thanks to Mary and Ursula. We’d come away with refreshers and new learnings.

And we’d been reminded by Ursula that though she and her husband, Wolfgang, can no longer get out as often as they’d like, after sixty years of marriage they still have fun reminiscing about their many explorations together. A goal for all of us to set.

Most often this wildflower and bird enthusiast walks vicariously with me as she reads my blog entries, but today it was my immense pleasure to walk with her. Thank you, Ursula, for once again sharing your love of all things natural with the rest of us . . . and your optimistic philosophy of life.

Oh and a question for Wolfgang, while Ursula walked with us, did you get on the treadmill?

A Boulder Degree

When I began writing this blog in 2015, my intention was to focus on the wonder of the natural world in western Maine. But sometimes, it’s other wonders and points further west (or even east) that grab my attention.

c-Pena Drive 1

And so it was that midweek last week we headed west of our west and landed in Denver, Colorado, for an extra long weekend. All that being said, this photo with the Rockies in the background made it look like it was sunny when we landed. Not so. It even rains in Colorado, though nothing like we’ve experienced in New England this month, and we landed in the mist on Wednesday night. But we made several trips to the airport and Big Sky country enveloped us.

Not only that, but there were prairie dogs everywhere along Peña Drive. OK, so they aren’t in my backyard, thankfully, but they were incredibly cute. We deal with mole mounds, but prairie dog mounds seem to be even more pronounced. Still . . . I smiled with each sighting.

Our home base for the next four nights was a garden suite in the Arvada home of Donevon and Beth–an Airbnb rental. It was clean, comfortable and located between our two destinations: Boulder and Denver. We highly recommend this two-bedroom space should you be in the area. Don’t forget to say we recommended it–and be sure to pet Maggie.

c-to boulder 4

A road traveled often was the one that led us to Boulder and we soon became familiar with the wind farm to the left, which evoked memories of the first wind farm we ever encountered on Prince Edward Island in Canada when our sons were but youngsters. And this past weekend, it was the younger of the two for whom we made the journey.

c-looking toward boulder

His home these past years has been at the base of the mountains, where he’s earned an education on many levels.

c-Pearl Street2

With him, we walked along Pearl Street, mindful always of the artistic endeavors (and similarities to Church Street in Burlington, Vermont).

c-boulder lions

And among it all, one Lion appreciated the work of others who’d built a fountain.

c-peak to peak 2

Then we headed further northwest, toward Estes Park, enjoying the mountain and sky views along the route.

c-Estes Park1

Like Maine, spring was just arriving, adding a contrast from brown and green below to white summits.

c-elk 1

And in the midst of it all . . .

c-elk 2

elk stopping traffic. (Didn’t they know they were supposed to turn to their other right?)

c-Estes 2

We oohed and awed, but had a plane to meet and so we didn’t stay long.

c-16th Street Mall sign

Over the course of our journey we explored Denver as well, where we walked the 16th Street Mall a couple of times.  We lunched and we dined–our companions ever changing, which added to the highlights.

c-16th Street, Denver

In historic terms, 16th is such a blend, though leans more toward the modern than so many back East.

c-union station 1

But, history stood tall . . .

c-union station 2

and lit the way toward the future.

c-tattered 1

No visit is ever complete without a stop at our favorite bookstore–Tattered Cover.

c-aquarium sign

We also made time to learn about the exotic. Or so they seemed to our New England brains.

c-turtle 3 (1)

We viewed an alligator-snapping turtle–a first for us. According to a sign, adult males are known to move very little and in fact, may stay in the same location for up to ten years. There’s a lesson in that, I suppose–about perseverance, which our youngest can certainly attest to.

c-lizard 1

We noted the range of scales,

c-rattle 3

differing in patterns and . . .

c-fish scales 1

size. Those pointed to another lesson about diversity among people and their outer skins that shield inner experiences.

c-spider 1 (1)

While some displays denoted hairy situations,

c-starfish and tropical fish

others demonstrated the creativity that can overcome.

c-starfish 2

There were times when the world looked best from an upside-down position,

c-starfish1

but in the end, stardom ruled.

c-sting rays 10

So did rays of another sort, who flapped their “wings” in forward motion.

c-sting rays 11

And then there was the whisperer . . .

c-sting rays 13

who patiently encouraged slow movement . . .

c-sting rays 14

rewarded with a gentle stroke.

c-tiger 3

In the end, we had our favorites. The sting rays and the king of them all–a least expected resident in the aquarium, a Sumatran Tiger.

c-jellyfish 2

And jellyfish! Bioluminescent sea nettles–the fireflies of the aquatic world. (Memories swam through my mind of glowing night swims in my own youth.)

c-before the grads enter

But our main reason for heading west was to watch Folsom Stadium fill up.

c-the stage is set

The stage was set and bag pipes tuned.

c-grads entering

Ever so slowly, soon-to-be graduates marched in.

c-college of arts and sciences sign

We were most interested in the College of Arts and Sciences.

c-grads seated

When I sent a text message asking, “Where are you?” I received this response: “I’m sitting down and wearing black.” Ah, that boy! Or young man, I should say.

c-where's waldo? he's here!

But, he could not escape his mother’s eye and she found him in the sea of Waldos. Or rather, Buffs. (Have fun looking.)

c-degrees conferred1

A couple of hours and sunshine later, degrees were conferred and tassels moved over.

c-congrats from cousin

But then, a second ceremony for each school, and this for film studies, where his cousin from Denver (and also a CU grad) joined us and offered congratulations.

c-receiving his diploma

After speeches and honors, at last the diplomas were awarded.

c-it's official

And in the wink of an eye, he was done. Fini.

c-our grad

Our grad tolerated his mom–as the sun shone brilliantly.

c-our gang 2

We all gave thanks for Pat’s achievements, from Hannah and Shep, to cousin Christian, our grad Pat, and my guy.

c-congrats class of 2017

The signs . . .

c-be boulder sign

said . . .

c-forever buffs sign

it all.

c-family gathering 1

He did it. And our smiles beamed for our wonder-ful son. Forever a Buff. Congratulations to Pat on your CU Boulder degree. Best. Mother’s. Day. Gift. Ever.

April Showers bring . . .

May showers!

v-green yard

It feels like it has rained every day for the past week, but the grass is certainly green.

v-pool (1)

And the vernal pool full. Between today’s downpours I visited it a couple of times, so excited by my findings.

v-wood frog eggs developing

The wood frog eggs had turned green with a symbiotic algae and I could see the tadpoles developing inside.

v-tadpoles 2

The green coloring made the their eggs contrast with the salamander masses. I was thrilled to see movement among the green and realized that . . . drum roll please . . .

v-tadpoles 6

my babies were slowing hatching. Of course, they are mine–even though the frog pond is located on a neighboring property. I’ve been an expectant mother for several weeks, and now . . . I’m nervous about the future, as any parent would be.

v-tadpoles 1

Will my babies survive? Will they have an opportunity to transform into their terrestrial forms?

v-tadpoles 7

Or will the pond dry up too soon as it has the last few years? I guess I’ll be forced to continue to stop by. Oh darn! One thing I have noted since the ice melted: I’ve yet to see a predacious diving beetle and there are hardly any mosquito larvae flipping about. That’s good for the tadpoles on one end of the spectrum and not so good on the other. To be food and to eat food.

v-sallie eggs 1

I also wondered, will the  white and opaque masses of the spotted salamander eggs turn green like they are supposed to–also dependent on a symbiotic algae?

v-hole 4

After checking on my wee ones, I walked the pond’s perimeter and noticed activity at a spot I’ve been keeping an eye on in the southwest corner. Well, not current activity, but recent. For the first time this year, a hole has been excavated.

v-hole 3

It’s the same hole that was excavated last year. Darker debris was piled in front.

v-hole1

At about three or so inches across, I wondered who owned it. Too small for foxes, and certainly too wet. Too big for chipmunks and a dirty dooryard. Could it be a mink? Do they leave a messy dooryard? I found the same hole excavated last year, but never any other evidence of the maker. I’ll continue to check for any other signs.

v-raindrops

My eyes reverted back to the pool, where raindrops and reflections created an artistic display.

v-maple dust lichen

And then I pulled myself away, frozen were my fingers. The greenness of the world continued to show its face everywhere I turned from the maple-dust lichen to . . .

v-white pine

young white pines, their candelabras growing long,

v-maple leaf and samara

red maple samaras upon old leaves,

v-cherry 1

and cherry flowers developing.

v-mayflower1

What do April showers bring? Mayflowers (trailing arbutus), of course,

v-Canada mayflower 2

Canada mayflowers,

v-tulip 1

and garden May flowers.

 

 

Slog Through The Bog

She said she’d call a half hour before heading to the bog so I should probably sleep in my hiking clothes and boots. And she was right! I was just about to take a bagel out of the toaster oven when the phone rang. “We’re going to the bog at 9:00. Can you join us?” Thirty-five minutes later I pulled into her driveway, excited because it was a chance to explore Brownfield Bog with about-to-become Maine Master Naturalist Kathy McGreavy and her daughter, Dr. Bridie McGreavy.

b-bog from road

From there we drove to Bog Road and parked at the beginning since conditions were dicey, but also because it gave us a chance to walk and listen–almost immediately we heard a barred owl. And then the warblers greeted us.

b-sky and water

Brownfield Bog, aka Major Gregory Sanborn WMA, encompasses 6,000 acres of wetland. And on any given day, the sky tells its story above and below. Of course, we thought we were going to get poured upon when we first met, but the mist soon evaporated and sun warmed us enough that we shed a few layers.

b-common yellow throat 2

The initial stretch of our journey found us moving at a fast pace, but once we reached the second gate,

b-Bridie McGreavy

our inclination was to slow down.

b-Kathy

To stop, look and listen.

b-common yellow throat 1

The chestnut streaks on the yellow warbler matched the emerging red maple leaves.

b-oriole 2

And I can never spend enough time with a Baltimore oriole, forever wowed by its color.

b-oriole singing

And its voice.

b-catbird

Birds flitted about and flew overhead, but occasionally one, such as this catbird, paused and posed.

b-willows and birches

Most of the songbirds were feeding and perhaps nesting in the land of the willows, birch and maples.

b-willow pine cone gall caused by midge

Others also sought homes here, like the gall gnat midge that overwintered in a pinecone-like structure created with leaves by the reaction to a chemical released by the larva. I’m forever amazed about how nature works.

b-song sparrow

Eventually, we followed the song sparrows as they led us down the cobbled road.

b-road 1

The current was strong in places . . .

b-deep water

and water deep.

b-scenery1

But the views . . .

b-Pleasant Mtn and Bog

worth every step.

b-maple samara

Sometimes, our focus was upon the ground, where we spotted a few small red maple samaras.

b-coyote scat

And scat–including this double offering of coyote deposits.

b-coyote scat toenail

And among it–a toe nail first spied by Bridie. I chuckled to myself when we got down to look at this, for Bridie first introduced me to the finer qualities of scat when she worked at Lakes Environmental Association. She also taught me to track mammals. And . . . the crème de la crème–to sniff fox pee. Ah, the delights we have shared–they are many and having an opportunity to walk with her today brought them all flooding back.

b-ribbon snake

We decided to put our blinders on so we could continue without any pauses, but then Bridie’s eagle eyes zeroed in on movement. Her mom and I saw the movement as well, but we had to really focus in order to find the creator among the dried vegetation.

b-ribbon 2

And we did–a ribbon snake, who happens to be a great reason for preserving this property because its a species of special concern in Maine.

b-Pleasant Mtn

At times, Pleasant Mountain was the featured backdrop.

b-Canada geese

And Canada geese swam in the foreground.

b-beaver mound

Everywhere, beaver works were obvious and scent mounds growing in size.

b-oak 1 (1)

After a couple of hours, we reached our turn-around point at the old oak tree.

b-beaver lodge

As we looked across, one of the beaver lodges stood above the water level.

b-bog 3

But Kathy and Bridie both reminded me that another was still submerged due to this spring’s high water level.

b-cuckoo nest remnants

Finally, we did our best to bee-line back. But Kathy showed me one more great find that had been pointed out to her by Mary Jewett last year–the straggly stick structure of a cuckoo’s nest. Certainly worth a wonder. (The other wonder–when we first arrived at the bog this morning, Mary was just leaving.)

b-spoon jar 2

Our entire morning had been worth a wonder and then another occurred when we returned to Kathy’s house. While I said goodbye to Bridie, who is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Communication in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine, her mom slipped into the house. When Kathy returned, she handed me this spoon pot filled with daffodils from her garden. She’s a potter and owner of Saco River Pottery. Though I love to give her fine art as presents, I only own one other piece. This one now stands proudly on our kitchen counter, holding the utensils as it was intended. It will forever remind me of the McGreavys and the day I first saw a dragonfly emerge from its exoskeleton–at the bog with Bridie; and the day I spent with Kathy as I interviewed her for a magazine article about creating pottery–and she let me try my hand at the wheel; and so many other memories of time spent with these ladies, but especially today–for the opportunity to slog through the bog with the two of them.

 

“The Actual World”

In this morning’s newspaper I read an article about the loss of natural sound because we have created so much people noise. It took me back to a time about forty years ago when I think I first actually paid attention by sitting alone in the woods and listening–hearing the soft rustle of grass blades, chirp of the crickets, buzz of mosquitoes and vroom of a truck in the distance. I can still envision that spot on a hillside where I closed my eyes to the sun and tried to zone in only on sound–to let go of the rest of the world and focus on that one sense.

And so I took that thought with me this morning when I joined others to bird at the Bob Dunning Bridge, one of the entrances to Bridgton’s Pondicherry Park.

p-yellow-rumped warbler

Truth be known, I also went birding at the bridge early yesterday morning when the sun shone brilliantly and a yellow-rumped warbler posed for an instant.

p-bridge 1

Today dawned raw and overcast. And at first, the birds weren’t all that song-filled or even evident.

p-baltimore 6

But then we heard one on high and our natural high kicked in. A Baltimore oriole whistled its melodious tune and we swooned.

p-phoebe right

We watched an Eastern phoebe flick its tail as it looked to the right . . .

p-phoebe left

and then to the left. Because of the morning’s chill, the bugs upon which it feeds seemed non-existent to start.

p-phoebee flying

But, perhaps it knew otherwise.

p-song swallow 2

What we knew was that the temp climbed a wee bit and bird song increased, including that of the ever sweet song sparrow. Yes, we could hear the sounds of this sleepy, western Maine town since we were only a block from Main Street, but the songbirds shared their voices and for us–we focused on those delightful tunes as we tried to figure out who we could hear but not see.

p-catbird 1

One such resident arrived this past week, like many other snowbirds (people residents who winter south of Maine– or is it south of New England?). We recognized the catbird first by its cat-like mewing and then we spotted two along the stonewall and in the brushy shrubs.

p-catbird flying

Like all birds, however, they didn’t sit still. We did note, though, that they spent most of their time on the other side of the bridge in an area where they frequently nest.

p-song sparrow 1

And speaking of nesting, the song sparrow moved from its perch to the ground where it joined others as they scratched about and filled their beaks with potential materials to add to their new home.

p-song sparrow 3

I love that from above, it blended in with its surroundings. A good thing when you are but a wee bird.

p-feathers

That being said, not all went undiscovered and we noted that some joules were passed from one bird to another–energy flowing through the cycle.

p-baltimore upside down

Eventually, one of our favorites of the day moved closer and we watched it for some time as it worked upside down and then . . .

p-baltimore 3

right side up. Again, we wondered if the oriole was working at the dried leaves and also seeking nesting material.

p-yellow warbler

And finally, a song a few of us heard when we first arrived showed its face–“Sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet,” evolved into a yellow warbler, or two or three.

p-Norway maple flowers 2

Because we were there and looking, other members of the world showed their faces, such as the flowers of Norway maples and . . .

p-box elder flowers

box elders.

p-elm leaves

We noted the emerging American elm leaves, already highlighting their sandpaper texture and asymmetrical base.

p-butternut

And then we got stumped momentarily by the butternut (aka white walnut ), but it’s the eyebrows above the monkey face leaf scar that spoke to its name. Less than a month ago, Jinny Mae and I discovered its cousin, black walnut at Narramissic. Both are not all that common in the woods, but both grow in places where human impact is more evident. That being said, human impact is evident the world ’round.

p-plaque

Eventually, all good things must come to an end and it was time for those gathered to move along into our days. But . . . we’d had the joy of spending a couple of early morning hours, whether in the sun or not, coming into contact with sight and sound and texture. We’d met the actual world and we loved making its acquaintance.

p-Mary 1

Thanks be to Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association for offering these community birding events. And for her patience with us amateurs as she teaches us the finer points of identification.

 

 

 

Books of May: Vernal Pools

I had two books to choose from and couldn’t decide which one to promote as the Book of May, and so . . . I chose both.

And it seems only right that both should be presented, for though they aren’t about the flowers or birds or leaves that are making our days brighter, they are about one of my other favorite May events. Yes, we celebrate Big Night in April, that night or those nights, when amphibians cross the roads as they return to their natal vernal pools to continue the life cycle. But it’s in May that so much growth occurs within those pools and if we take the time to notice, we can watch it all happen–changing daily. And the more we understand what we are looking at, well . . . the more we get it. (“Stating the obvious again, Mom,” our two twenty-something sons would say if they were to read this. But they don’t so I can get away with it.)

Enough said. The May Books of the Month are . . . the following:

s-Field Guide (1)

A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools

and

s-MAAR (2)

Maine Amphibians and Reptiles.

The former, A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools by Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burne, is about 8″ x 5″ and fits easily into any pack I decide to carry. Its pages are glossy, so I don’t worry too much about it getting ruined if I get it wet. And though it was written to represent Massachusetts, most of the species described match what Maine vernal pools have to offer.

s-MAAP frogs:toads (1)

After an introduction to vernal pools, their indicator (obligate) species, protection, importance and human impacts upon them, there is a pictorial guide to the adult amphibians and reptiles. This is a quick and easy reference, and especially useful when trying to determine the difference between species, e.g. bullfrogs and green frogs or leopard frogs and pickerel frogs. Besides frogs, it includes salamanders, snakes and turtles.

s-MAAR sallies (2)

And then there are more descriptive pages for each species. These have helped me over the years to gain a better understanding of what I’m looking at.

s-sallie eggs 1

Even today, when Jinny Mae and I discovered these spotted salamander eggs, I loved that we could see that gelatinous matrix that surrounded the individual eggs.

s-wood frog eggs

And the book has helped me recognize the difference between those salamander eggs and these wood frog eggs.

In the field, there’s so much more to see, including the invertebrates that inhabit the pool, and ever so slowly I’m learning to identify them as well–you know, predaceous diving beetles, damselfly larvae, water scorpions, backswimmers, water striders . . . the list goes on. Each of them is featured in the back of the book with a photograph and paragraph or two describing their larval and adult forms.

Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J.K. Calhoun and Mark McCollugh, is my at-home reference book. Well, sometimes it goes for a ride in my truck, but usually, it’s left at home because it’s larger and offers a much more in-depth take on amphibians and reptiles, their habitats and conservation. Besides a photo gallery, each amphibian and reptile that makes its home in Maine is featured, with thorough descriptions, taxonomic status, distribution, reproduction, habitat, diet, and interactions with people and other animals. There are sketches and maps to further enhance the information presented. And it’s all quite readable.

s-MAAR recordings 2 (1)

One of the best features of this book (and unfortunately, mine is cracked) is the CD at the end. Yes, you can actually listen to the individual species so that when you hear them in the day or night, you might begin to recognize them, much as you would a bird, by their voices before you spy them.

In the past few years, the vernal pool that I study frequently, has dried up before the amphibians have matured. I find solace in the fact that even when the pool dries up, the species growing there still provide nourishment and pass on energy to their consumers.

But . . . maybe this year will be different. We had a lot of snow, and now a lot of rain. Maybe this will be the year the amphibians and insects that reside in the pool will actually mature and hop or fly out.

It all begins with MAY.

The Books of May:

A Field Guide of the animals of Vernal Pools, by Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burne, available through the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.  (Curiously, the copy I own was from the third printing in MAY 2009)

Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Jr., Aram J.K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollugh, The University of Maine Press, Orono, 1999. (I purchased my copy at Bridgton Books.)